Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Warns Flood Victims About Repair Scams

October 27, 2016

Pennsylvania Insurance Commissioner Teresa Miller is urging homeowners whose properties suffered damage in the recent flooding that hit several North Central Pennsylvania counties to be cautious of scams when seeking repairs.

She has also offered advice for homeowners to properly file claims with their insurers and avoid being the victim of a home repair scam, according to a press release issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Insurance.

“The days following a disaster such as a flood are stressful and can be overwhelming,” Commissioner Miller said in the release. “Filing a claim for property damage can be confusing, especially if you have never done it before.”

She reminded homeowners that flood damage is not covered by typical homeowners’ policies, so in most cases, residents will need to have flood insurance to get coverage. Natural disasters, however, can attract scammers and others who are looking to take advantage of people in distress, she added, so it is important for residents to be wary of anyone offering to do home repairs or help file a claim with an insurer.

“Always ask questions if you don’t understand anything your insurance company representative tells you,” Commissioner Miller said. “This is your home and property, so ask as many questions as you need until you feel comfortable you have a handle on the situation.”

Under Pennsylvania law, public adjusters are licensed and regulated to act as professional claims handlers, she said. Public adjusters are employed by policyholders to assist with the insurance claims process.

“Always make sure to ask anyone claiming to be a public adjuster for his licensing information,” Commissioner Miller said.

When repairs begin, consumers also need to make sure they are working with a reputable contractor that is appropriately insured and bonded, she said. Home improvement contractors who do more than $5,000 of business per year in Pennsylvania must register with the Attorney General’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. Consumers should ask contractors for their Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) number and verify the contractor is registered by calling the Office of Attorney General Home Improvement Registration hotline.

“It’s a good idea to check references and licensure on any contractor you are thinking of hiring, and to get more than one estimate for the work if possible,” Commissioner Miller said. “Make sure you get all estimates in writing, including the total cost for the repairs, the work to be done, the timetable for completion, and any guarantees the contractor may offer. Recovering from flooding is difficult and stressful.”

She offered the following additional tips:

  • Contact the insurance company as soon as possible. Follow instructions given by the insurer and keep a record of the people spoken with, including the name and title of each person and the date.
  • Save all receipts.
  • Take photos or video before clean up or repairs.
  • After documenting damage, make repairs necessary to prevent further damage, but don’t make any permanent repairs before the insurer inspects the damage and approves the repairs.
  • Don’t rush to a settlement. If possible, determine what repairs will cost before an insurance company representative assesses the damage. If there is a disagreement with an insurer on the offer made to repair the property, be prepared to negotiate.
  • If a claim is denied, review the policy carefully for what is and is not covered. An appeal may be filed with an insurance company’s claim manager.
  • Don’t sign paperwork with sections left blank. Someone can fill in information after the paperwork is signed.
  • Don’t pay a contractor in full or sign that the work is complete until the work is actually finished.
  • Be cautious of contractors with vans or trucks with out-of-state license plates and/or that lack signs identifying the company.

Source: Pennsylvania Department of Insurance

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